Are Your Elbows Actually the Problem in Your Overhead Position?
Greg Everett

In the way that overhead squat immobility often gets blamed on the shoulders when the problem is actually the lower body, often an athlete's inability to lock the elbows securely in the jerk is blamed directly on the elbows when in fact the elbows can extend perfectly well.

As the grip narrows in the overhead position (i.e. a jerk grip compared to a snatch grip), the mobility limitations of the shoulders become more influential on elbow extension. In other words, a lifter may be able to achieve perfect elbow lockout in the snatch, but have trouble in the jerk. This is a pretty simple cause and effect—if the shoulders aren't mobile enough to allow the upper arm to move into the position necessary, the elbow can’t be extended completely; in other cases, it can be, but the fight to keep it there is so tough that the elbows are often soft and rebend after initial lockout.

A quick, simple way to check whether the elbows are actually the culprit is to hold your arm at your side and extend the elbow maximally. If your extension there is limited, your elbow is the problem; if the extension at your side is greater than in the overhead position, you know the elbow isn't the source of the problem and most likely the issue is shoulder mobility.

The quickest fix is to widen your jerk grip a little; this may or may not be possible for all lifters, primarily due to how it will change the rack position, and it may not provide significant enough relief. Long term, the only solution of course is to improve shoulder mobility and strengthen elbow extension.

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Greg Everett is the owner of Catalyst Athletics, coach of the USA Weightlifting National Champion team Catalyst Athletics, author of the books Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches and Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, director/writer/producer/editor/everything of the documentary American Weightlifting, co-host of the Weightlifting Life Podcast, and publisher of The Performance Menu journal. He is an Olympic Trials coach, coach of over 30 senior national level or higher lifters, including national medalists, national champion and national record holder; as an athlete, he is a fifth-place finisher at the USAW National Championships, masters national champion, masters American Open champion, and masters American record holder in the clean & jerk. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, and sign up for his free newsletter here.

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